Ultra running: Italian Daniel Jung blazes a trail in Tyrolean challenge


For most walkers, the Tyrolean High Altitude Trail takes between 10 and 12 days to complete — Italian ultra runner Daniel Jung has negotiated it in just over two days, running a large portion of the route.

The trail begins in the Zillertal Valley in Austria and finishes in Merano, Italy. It spans 200 kilometeres (124 miles) and involves climbing 13,964 vertical meters (45,800 feet) in altitude along the way.

“I am very happy and proud I have made it, also without injuries,” Jung told CNN Sport after taking 57 hours and 32 minutes to complete the challenge. “But I think I could have been faster if I had not underestimated the route.”

The trail traverses one of the Alps’ more dramatic sections and confronts wayfarers with exposed passes, rock bands, and mountain ridges. The terrain’s steepness also forces hikers and runners to utilize via ferratas — an assortment of steel cables that allow some of the trail’s more vertical and exposed portions to be safely negotiated.

“I did not actually train for it particularly, but did ultra marathon competitions as usual,” said Jung as he reflected on his achievement.

“It was the first time for me that I did a project like this and I just wanted to see how it went, with no pressure. Now I have the experience and for the future I know how to prepare better and more in detail.”

Jung kept moving during the night.

A 34-year-old south Tyrolean native from Naturns, Jung is no stranger to breaking records on his home turf, having won the Ultraskyrace in South Tyrol in 2016 and 2017.

However, the Tyrolean High Altitude Trail’s unyielding ruggedness posed Jung with some unexpected difficulties.

He set off on his record-breaking endeavour at 4 a.m. on August 7, hoping to complete the course in less than 48 hours, and looked well on his way towards achieving this superhuman feat after running for 23 straight hours and covering over half of the total distance.

Jung runs along a ridge on the Tyrolean High Altitude Trail.

However the 2,706m climb of the Wetterspitze — a limestone monolith that juts up from the Alps and marks 101km of distance on the trail — took its toll and forced Jung to rest a few hours in a mountain hut.

But resting only made things worse, reminding Jung of the mental and physical toll that such an extreme early effort had taken.

“I underestimated the terrain, the fatigue was extremely bad and pushed me to the max,” said Jung.

He ascended from several mountain lakes on the Alpine trail.

After sleeping for a few hours to recuperate the necessary energy to make his final push to Merano, Jung arrived at the finish at 1:32 p.m. on August 9.

While he didn’t finish in under 48 hours as he’d hoped to, Jung still set the speed record for the demanding circuit.

“I just wanted to get to Merano and at some point it didn’t matter in what time. I tried to listen to my body and my body needed sleep, so my body got sleep,” added Jung.

“The fact that my girlfriend, my family and friends were waiting for me in Merano definitely helped me get to the finish. This was definitely the biggest challenge in my sporting career.”

A sketch of Jung, who set a new speed record for the Tyrolean High Altitude Trail.
Having set a new trail running record, the Italian super athlete, ranked number 32 on the Ultra-Trail World Tour in 2017, now has his sights set on his next challenges. Among his upcoming races are the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline Race in Scotland and the Pirin Ultra in Bulgaria.

He also hasn’t given up on cracking the 48-hour mark on the Tyrolean High Altitude Trail.

“I will definitely try it again next year again.”

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